Ferdinand Feghoot a character brought to life by Reginald Bretnor (1911-1992) under the anagrammatic pseudonym name, Grendel Briarton. Mr. Bretnor was a resident of Medford, Oregon. Born in Vladivostok, Siberia his family moved to San Diego, California in 1920. As a writer, he seemed fascinated by puns authoring many book two of which are "Through Time and Space With Ferdinand Feghoot", and "The Complete Feghoot". A paperback Feghoot collection was published by Paradox Press in 1962 and The Mirage Press published two other editions: The Compleat Feghoot and The (Even More) Compleat Feghoot. His final novel was Schimmelhorn's Gold from Ace, a collection of Bretnor's stories about an oversexed octogenarian idiot/genius. He was a Nebula Award Best Short story nominee in 1967 for Earthwoman, as well as a critical essayist on military theory. Writing mostly in short form, either fact or fiction, he enjoyed getting a piece completed as soon as possible, so he could move on to something else. An insatiable curiosity, and try as he may, Bretnor could not keep humor at bay from any serious subject.
Bretnor's interests included science fiction and fact, Japanese swords, cats, weaponry and military strategies and tactics of the past, present and future. The prolific science fiction and mystery writer of more than 40 years, died on July 15, 1992 at his home.
The bumbling Scourge of the Space-Time Continua, time traveling philanthropist Ferdinand Feghoot first appeared in the "Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction",which ran for years, as the star of the series, "Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot". In the May 1956 issue a long series of monthly half-page pun-stories debuted. A typical entry had feckless and shrewd Feghoot rescuing a Parisian landlord who had thrown himself in the river to drown because none of his tenants were paying him. Ferdinand Feghoot quipped the man "didn't have enough rents to come in out of the Seine." The series gave rise to dozens of ardent imitators, and one professional one: Randall Garrett who wrote a series of pun-stories for Amazing (Mar. 1962), in which the pun involved a professional Science Fiction writer's name, and starred a character named Benedict Breadfruit. These complete short stories, as opposed to a joke ending with a pun, were originally of the science fiction genre, sometimes called groaners or shaggy dog story shaggy dog stories (A story with a spoonerism as a punch line). Over time feghoots have become more generalized; a flash fiction of sorts that are usually 300 to 500 words long. They have a rather contrived and thin plot with characters, a beginning, middle and endings that are frequently Spooneristic.
Perhaps the stories which come closest to Bretnor's style have a tall tale quality to them and wittiness akin to the Azazel stories that became the staple of Isaac Asimov near the end of his writing career. His style of humor can particularly be seen in the first couple of stories, "Maybe Just a Little One," which theorizes about the atomic power of the element frijolium, extracted from common Mexican beans.
Asimov loved making puns and one of his most memorable short stories ends with a spooneristic feghoot best summarized as
".....a fellow named Stein commits a crime, then uses a time machine to escape to a point in the future just after the statute of limitations on his offense has run out.
He's arrested anyway, and brought to trial on the theory that since Stein had not actually lived through that passage of time, the statute of limitations should not apply.
The judge scours through the evidence and arguments, then issues a six-word verdict: “A niche in time saves Stein.”
Here's one more classic example of a terrific groaner.....
At one point, the Illustrious Feghoot was called in to help a struggling humanoid race on Phi-Omega 9. Their problem was desperate indeed. You see, virtually all of the landmass of the planet was composed of a series of very high mesas and plateaus. The rain, rather than falling on the top of the plateaus, would be expended on the sides. This made farming virtually impossible, so the hapless humanoids were trapped in the Stone Age, neither able to farm effectively nor develop the technology to irrigate the high mesas.
Of course, the poor aliens called upon Ferdinand Feghoot, the illustrious time
traveler and philanthropist, to aid them.
Upon arriving, Feghoot looked over the situation and immediately hit upon a solution. He instructed the aliens to dig a trench up the side of the closest plateau, and sent off to Earth for 90 tons of pickles. Once the aliens had ceased digging, Feghoot had them lay the pickles side by side, end to end, along the entire length of the trench. Immediately the water began to flow up the trench and onto the plateau.
The aliens were astounded. "We knew you were a brilliant man, but this is beyond our wildest dreams. We do not understand, though, why the water flows uphill simply because of the presence of pickled cucumbers. What makes this amazing thing occur?"
Feghoot, with a condescending but genial air, replied, "Simple, my boy. We've known it on Earth for centuries. Indeed, every school child knows that, 'dill waters run steep'"
David Koblick defines a feghoot in Isolated M (October, 1997, page 18)
".....in the early 1950s, Tony Boucher and J. Francis McComas co-edited (always a questionable arrangement at best) The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. David was a passing acquaintance of J. Francis, but he knew Tony quite well; thus he had a contemporary interest in their magazine. One of magazine's writers was Reginald Bretnor (a.k.a. Grendel Briarton), who told tales of one Ferdinand Feghoot. This original Feghoot was a space adventurer, roaming the galaxy saving himself and others from one danger after another peril. Each event '...ended with a pun that summed up the situation just resolved.' In one well known - possibly the first - adventure, Ferd dealt with another spacer named Stein, who himself escaped by slipping into a time warp. David reports that the particulars are somewhat hazy, but the first feghoot was probably 'A niche in time saves Stein.' Now you have it."
The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor: